November 2022, Virtual
21 November 2022, Hilton London Metropole
To go with a dedicated internal event team or an independent external agency? William Maxwell weighs up the options
Obsessive Branding Disorder (OBD) is a term used to describe the pedantic preoccupation companies have with their outward image. Corporate event teams are also prone to this condition, painstakingly creating a live environment reflective of a brand’s carefully crafted persona. However, in these lean times many corporate event teams have been slashed or, in some cases, cut completely in favour of an agency-only model.
Betfair and Axa both abolished their dedicated event teams earlier this year, and agencies are reporting that team staff cuts are becoming commonplace as suppliers take on a greater share of the event legwork. Absolute Corporate Events director Chris Parnham says the economic squeeze has made it tempting to cut some fixed costs.
“Agencies are taking a stronger lead on creative planning, logistics and delivery,” he says. “The benefit to the corporate is that it saves a sometimes hefty permanent cost, moving it to a variable cost that can be charged directly to an event, and linked directly to any return-on-investment measures attached to the event.”
He adds: “An agency is also freer to challenge internal preconceived ideas, or to challenge influential stakeholders in order to produce and deliver a better experience for the audience.”
According to Crown Group, approximately 70-80 per cent of corporates are now using agencies, and the figure is moving upwards. The group’s agency and venue relationship manager Claire Leonard says there has been a growing acknowledgement that an agency’s professional experience can be greatly advantageous, as it’s often privy to what a multitude of brands are doing.
“Agencies have a great knowledge of the best places and people to use for events, both in the UK and across the world, so corporates can tap into that knowledge,” adds Crown Group’s customer services director Nicky Pratt.
I’M WITH THE BRANDSpotify events manager Kate Marriage describes herself as a “brand guardian”, and says the company is keen to keep its corporate image exactly to its liking. Its attention to detail can be seen in projects such as its Spotify House venue at South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, which was designed as an effortlessly cool and unpretentious area to allow delegates to relax and enjoy music.
“When we select agencies, we do so with careful criteria and ensure that they are onboard with our brand and very much get what we are trying to do,” she says.
To ‘get’ a brand takes a lot of work and attention, according to marketing agency Amplify’s founder, Jonathan Emmins, who says his agency is often chosen by brands, including Converse and Playstation, to offer a neutral eye, along with a tailor-made client team, spanning everyone from creative experts at concept stage to experienced account handlers on activation.
“Keeping events in-house can bring with it continuity and an unrivalled brand knowledge, but businesses are looking for flexible workforces – for cost and quality reasons,” says Emmins.
Absolute’s Parnham also sympathises with the corporate’s need for control, and the difficulties some agencies face in meeting their exacting standards. “An agency will never know the audience or the culture as well as the internal corporate team, so there may be an element of personal service lost, which might be apparent to the end client – the delegate.”
The decision over which agency a corporate should go with, then, will perhaps be the most vital factor. Russell Allen is the owner of events agency Crescendo. He says: “Very often, this will be an instinctive choice. If you’re a sharp suited, buttoned-up law firm or bank, you might not be advised not to go with the bearded, leather jacket-wearing creatives from Shoreditch.”
NEW MODELS OF WORKINGThe difficulty a corporate decision-maker faces when bringing in outsiders is very much understood by agencies, it seems. However, new models are emerging that demonstrate the evolution of the corporate/agency relationship. Many travel management companies are using their regular access to event planners to begin offering supplemental meeting booking services, becoming a one-stop-shop for events and travel, demonstrating the increased trust and revenue that corporates are offering their suppliers.
Crown Group’s Pratt says: “It appears there is a move towards companies wanting to be all things to all people, which perhaps in the current market is a wise decision. Many company departments seem to be getting involved in events, including marketing, creative, PR and brand teams, so this can provide a simple solution [for centralising bookings and events].”
Parnham, however, is sceptical. “In my experience, the corporates who have tried to hand their meetings business to their travel partner have either backed out of this arrangement or are in the process of doing so”, he says.
“The two disciplines are quite different: one being a commoditised, cost and speed based requirement, mostly delivered online; and the other being an expert consultancy service, delivered with care and attention within an established relationship of trust and knowledge.”
Amplify’s Emmins has identifies another trend, which he dubs ‘almost employees’, the grey area of brand advocates being engaged to help shape brand decisions and events internally. “These people are often paid with nothing more than access and content,” he adds.
Other models, meanwhile, are automating the event planning process, saving corporates money, but arguably watering down their relationships with agencies. Online meeting booking is such an example, allowing corporates access to systems that agency staff themselves would traditionally use.
“The first-hand feedback I have had to date is that although the procurement teams like the data and compliance these tools drive, the actual users don’t like them because they are over-complex, stifle creativity, and users miss the experience they are used to getting from their specialist agency,” says Parnham.
Whether it’s been forced by economic realities, or consistently encouraging results, it seems agencies are being seen more as partners than suppliers as corporates experiment with new models. However, with up-to-the minute brands like Spotify showing protectionist tendencies, the importance of maintaining a team of exacting internal advocates is still strong.
KEEPING IT IN-HOUSE: THE PROS AND CONS
FOR…Greater control of brand imageSmaller chain of command on decision-makingSome motivational benefitsStaff will know what has worked before for the brand
AGAINST…Staff may lack variety of experience that agency workers seePermanent staff often cost moreQuieter seasons may lead to staff downtimeCorporates often lack the supplier network of agencies